Strong Spirit: Hope for Women Living with Illness

Even at this time of reduced social interaction I keep (virtually) bumping into women who are sick or struggling.  There was a time when I thought I was the only odd one.  As a youngish woman living with a chronic condition, it seemed to me that the frustration and pain of dealing with an uncooperative body made my life abnormal.  I felt abnormal.

But what is normal?  I’ve come to realize that most of us struggle – some with emotional issues like depression or anxiety, others with physical challenges like cancer or arrhythmia.

I wonder if you ever feel alone in your pain?  Of if you know someone wrestling with a recent diagnosis or ongoing condition.  Do you think Strong Spirit might touch the hurting place in your life or in the life of your loved one?  My hope is that it will. In Strong Spirit I share my own story and introduce readers to other women who live well in spite of on-going challenges.

Do you long to live a meaningful life in spite of chronic pain or illness?
Does depression or anxiety interfere with routines that used to be easy?

In this book Holly will help you:

  • Discover that you have not been rejected or abandoned by God.
  • Learn to stop comparing yourself to others or to your former self.
  • Find balance between selfless love and self-care.
  • Find joy and comfort in your most distressing moments.
  • Embrace new hope for the future.

We belong to a community of real women who suffer and struggle. Although brokenness may be part of this season of our lives, let’s inspire one another as we allow God to use our strengths and our weakness for His glory.

In Canada, order on

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Featured post

Nestled Near

A bird built her nest on top of our front light, obviously oblivious to the fact that light generates warmth, and heat against the delicate properties of an egg white can be disastrous if that egg white is the amniotic fluid essential to new life.

We won’t be turning on the light any time soon.

We will protect those baby birds – unimportant to some, but precious to us. We feel a sense responsibility for them because their mother has chosen to nestle her home next to ours.

In many ways we are like those eggs. Nestled near to One who protects us, although we might not be aware of it. We often feel alone. Vulnerable. But God is near. He sees us and He will protect us if we ask Him to.

While we’re talking about birds and spring… for two days a robin has dedicated itself to tossing soggy leaves out of our gutter. As we eat at the kitchen table and look out through the patio doors, a slow, steady rain of wet poplar leaves flutters past. Why is it doing this??

I can’t sign off without sharing with you my delight that something pretty and yellow is finally blooming in the garden! Who says something beautiful can’t spring from an ugly environment? These bulbs are planted a few feet above our septic tank (you know what’s in there!) and that is why they are the first to open each spring.

A Visit With Family

It’s been ages since I’ve seen family face to face.  Although our province has, once again, initiated a state of lock-down for us all, we drove to see my sisters over the Easter weekend (visiting outside by a campfire with one and taking advantage of the chance to ‘join households’ with the other).  It was wonderful. 

Do The Next Thing

Early spring in our yard is messy. We live in a snow belt, and most of our property lies buried in more than a couple of feet of snow all winter.  When milder weather melts the snow, we find vole tracks snaking across the grass, mole mounds that resemble huge dung heaps, and holes everywhere.

It’s hard to believe that things will be beautiful in a month or two. 

Because my stamina is poor and I have many weak days when I’m unable to work outside, spring clean-up can feel really daunting.  I wish hours of fresh air and vigorous work were within my abilities… but… they’re not.  So I do a little bit at a time, on days when I can handle this.

Which brings to mind an old, old poem – one that offers good advice for those overwhelming moments when anxiety causes us to panic or to freeze.  I hope the gist of the words comforts you, as it does me, in spite of the old-style language.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

Kitchen Disaster

Multitasking in the kitchen rarely goes well for me.

Yesterday my desire for a hamburger was irresistible. Mixing up a batch of dough for burger buns seemed simple enough, especially since it was the early afternoon – there was plenty of time for kneading, rising and baking before our evening meal. My heart had been giving me trouble all day – jittering and pumping in fits and starts – but a steady stream of oxygen is overrated, anyway, and I make bread so often it hardly requires a clear head. Or so I thought.

I soon found I was out of traditional yeast, which meant I had to use instant (convenient, but not ideal – it always produces bread with inferior texture for me). I was also running low on run-of-the-mill white flour, so I delved into a huge bag of locally produced specialty flour that I bought for a great price at a boutique store some months ago (when flour was hard to come by.) This flour possesses certain rye-like tendencies in terms of flavour and density and it’s been sitting (all 20 kgs of it) in a corner of the kitchen for months. I prefer not to use it. All these thoughts (and more) crossed my mind as I prepped the dough and threw it into the oven to rise. Note: I always put my dough in the oven to rise, to avoid drafts and to maximize counter space.

Moving on.

A bowl of sweet, milky drizzle from a cake experiment the day before was taking up valuable real estate in my fridge. I thought I could make this stuff into a flan, with minimal effort. So I made caramel for the top and strained raw egg lumps from the milk mixture, before setting the oven to pre-heat.

My daughter was listening to a university lecture at the table, waiting for me to finish. She’d created a Cahoot and we were going to try it out. Before settling down with her I just wanted to get the flan in.

Bain-marie. Check. Oven at 350 F. Check. Open the over door to insert flan…

My rising dough (which I was aware of and waiting for, but which I had not connected in any way with the pre-heating oven) sat in a melting pink plastic bowl (my FAVOURITE bowl.) The dough was half cooked, half raw. An odd smell – somewhere between fresh bread and burning rubber – whooshed out when the oven door opened.

Amazingly, the flan turned out well and I managed to coax six buns from the uncooked portion of the dough. But the bowl! Is there any hope for a bowl that has been so damaged by thoughtlessness?

I looked at the bowl. And I thought about a conversation I had with a friend recently. Life damages us. Circumstances beyond our control shape us. Some would say we are victims – doomed to forever be the person we don’t want to be – shaped by others – people who loved us, maybe, but their actions left us scarred.

We can’t deny we’ve been touched by people and circumstances in our lives. But they don’t have to dictate who we are – who we become. We can rise above our history, intentionally embracing (and working towards) a better self. We know our flaws better than anyone, but we also know our potential.

If my bowl is salvageable

so are you.

Stay-at-Home Silver Linings

The past months have been unlike any I can remember, culminating in Ontario’s stay-at-home order, which permitted leaving home only for work or essentials such as groceries.  I could share with you all the things I’ve missed most – I’m sure you’ve longed for some of the same things I have during the past eleven months – but instead, I want to focus on the positive and celebrate the unexpected joys of staying home.

Walks replaced swims this winter, and I’ve discovered walkways, wooded areas and natural beauty close to home.

With more time than ever before and no place to go, hobbies (new and rediscovered) have become central to keeping boredom at bay and anticipating each day with excitement. My daughter is very diligent in practising guitar… but I can’t bring myself to play piano unless the house is empty… and there is always someone at home these days!

Can you tell that the picture on the right is a rooster? My first attempt. Some like it – others say it must be abstract because they don’t see anything that resembles poultry in that mess of colours!

My husband spent hours transforming our dingy furnace room into a brightly lit, highly organized workshop. We have buckets of old tools, left behind by an uncle, and Alexis is slowly refurbishing them. Beautiful!

As a child and teen, I spent hours drawing and painting, a hobby I abandoned decades ago. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across my old tin of watercolour paints and rediscovered the joy of staining textured paper with deep blues, intense yellow and all of the colours that form when you set pigment free to mingle on the page. So fun! Below is my latest masterpiece. I cannot decide if it is the most gorgeous impression of wisteria I’ve ever set eyes on (if I do say so myself) or if it is an enthusiastic, overworked mess. Happily, I paint for my own pleasure, so even if the verdict is abstract disaster which vaguely resembles elephants, I enjoyed the process and like the end result. 🙂

Bagels Demystified

Who knew that making bagels was so easy?

For months I’ve been baking all of our bread:  baguettes, whole wheat loaves, hamburger buns, flatbread…  Bagels, though, are a mystery.  Isn’t there an obscure ingredient that gives store-bought bagels their distinctive flavour and texture?  Haven’t I heard something about boiling bagels?  Surely that can’t be true.  Who boils any kind of bread dough?

Today I googled a recipe and took the plunge.  So did the bagels.  Get it?  Plunge?  As in, into water?  Okay.  Ignore me – I’m getting carried away.  I admit I felt a little giddy when these turned out delicious on the very first try.

It turns out bagels are easy to make.  You mix up the dough – much like bread dough, only without the oil – and you let it rise.  The mystery of bagels, I guess, is in the boil.  Using a slotted spoon I dropped each circle of dough into vigorously boiling water – just for a minute or two – and then I baked them on high heat (450 degrees F).  The result?  Eight beautiful bagels.

Here’s the recipe I used: New York-Style Bagels

NOTE:  Next time I will raise the oven rack so that the bottoms don’t get so dark.  And my husband told me, in no uncertain terms “Never make those salty ones again.” (I bought some chunky sea salt, and, never having used it before, went a little crazy with it as a topping.  Way too much.  Very salty.  Very much like eating a spoonful of salt with each bite.  Yuk.)

NOTE #2:  You may wonder about the Do Not Eat sign.  Best birthday present ever.  I was constantly stressing about teenagers (and occasionally husbands) causing food to disappear from the kitchen so that when meal time came, key ingredients would be gone.  Then my thoughtful spouse gave me a bunch of these homemade Do Not Eat signs for my birthday.  I absolutely love them and I use them all the time.

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